This week we begin with Question 47 of the New City Catechism, found in Part 3 (questions 36-52), which focuses on the Spirit, restoration, and growing in grace.
Question 47: Does the Lord's Supper add anything to Christ's atoning work?
Answer: No, Christ died once for all. The Lord's Supper is a covenant meal celebrating Christ's atoning work; it is also a means of strengthening our faith as we look to him, and a foretaste of the future feast. But those who take part with unreprentant hearts eat and drink judgment on themselves.
At the time of the Reformation (the early 16th century), various groups of Protestant churches broke away from the Roman Catholic Church. These different Protestant groups disagreed with each other over the nature of the Lord's Supper, particularly over the nature of Christ's presence in it. Lutherans continued to hold to Christ's physical, bodily presence in the Supper. Reformed churches often held to what became known as a spiritual presence of Christ in the Supper. And still others among the Reformed focused more on the Supper as a memorial. But in spite of their differences, all Protestants stood in agreement against the Roman Catholic teaching on the Lord's Supper as a re-presentation of Christ's sacrifice. According to the Catholic Church, the Supper (or "Mass") is a bloodless sacrifice presented to God repeatedly by the priest, who by the words of consecration is able to effect the transformation of the elements of bread and wine into the physical body and blood of Christ (a doctrine known as "transubstantiation"). Catholics do not believe that Christ is crucified over and over again, but they do believe that his sacrifice must be constantly re-presented to God, and that the priest of the church has the unique mediatorial ability to perform this function.
Protestants opposed this teaching because of the clear biblical truth that Christ's sacrifice, being offered once for all, cannot be supplemented by further acts of sacrifice. Hebrews 10:14 says, "For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified." When Jesus uttered the words "It is finished" from the cross (John 19:30), he testified to the completed work of redemption accomplished by his once-for-all sacrifice. The Lord's Supper adds nothing to Christ's sacrifice. Rather, it summons us to remember, again and again and again, the definitive, final, and complete sacrifice Christ made for our sins when he offered up his body to death. His single sacrifice was all that was needed, for he is an all-sufficient Savior. When you eat and drink, remember what Christ has done and give thanks.
Suggested passage for personal or family reading: Hebrews 10. What does this chapter teach us about Christ's sacrifice? How is it greater than the sacrifices of the old covenant? Why should we reject the Catholic teaching that the Lord's Supper is a re-presentation of Christ's sacrifice?